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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

The Music Episode – The New York Times

TechThe Music Episode - The New York Times


This transcript was created using speech recognition software. While it has been reviewed by human transcribers, it may contain errors. Please review the episode audio before quoting from this transcript and email transcripts@nytimes.com with any questions.

kevin roose

I’m Kevin Roose, a tech columnist at “The New York Times.”

casey newton

I’m Casey Newton from “Platformer.”

kevin roose

And this is “Hard Fork.”

casey newton

This week, it’s the music show. The mega mix of “Hard Fork” songs that you’ve been asking for has arrived. Plus, we’ll go behind the scenes and talk to some of the composers that make the music for this show.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

kevin roose

Hello, Casey.

casey newton

Hi, Kevin.

kevin roose

We’re going to do something weird today.

casey newton

I’m excited about it.

kevin roose

So excited about this. So today, instead of our normal show where we talk about the tech news, we have got a very special episode. This is one we’ve been wanting to do for months now, and we have finally gotten our act together to do it.

casey newton

We’re going to tell you how to talk to your kids about drugs.

kevin roose

[LAUGHS]: No. So this episode is the “Hard Fork” music episode. And it is a direct response to one of the questions that we get asked the most, which is, Where can I find the amazing music that plays in your episode?

casey newton

Yes, every week, we give you the email address for the show, and every week, you email us, saying, Where can we listen to that?

kevin roose

The verdict is in. People don’t like the talking, but they do like the music.

casey newton

They said, What if these two guys just didn’t talk at all? Would the show maybe be better? And we’re going to find out this week.

kevin roose

And I think something that people don’t realize is that we actually have, at “The New York Times,” a team of in-house composers who make custom music for every podcast, including ours. This is not the norm in the podcast industry. Usually, people go onto music libraries, or they find songs that are sort of out there on the internet, and they pull those into their podcast. But not us. We are artisanal, and we make our music from scratch.

casey newton

Yeah, and as somebody who does not work at “The New York Times,” when I joined to make this show and they said that they had a team of composers, I mean, it was like they told me that they had a team of astronomers. I was like, wait, wait, what do you mean?

But it was true. There was a whole team of people, and they are insanely talented. They work on incredibly short deadlines, and I’m not exaggerating when I say, truly, everything they’ve ever made for the show, I’m in love with.

kevin roose

It’s so good.

casey newton

Yeah.

kevin roose

And so today, we are going to give you the very special “Hard Fork” music episode. We will be back next week with the regular episodes where we talk about the news. But this week, I thought we should just grant our listeners’ most frequent requests and just play for them all of the music on this show.

casey newton

That’s right. This show wants to be in service of its listeners. And so look, if there’s something you want, ask for it. Maybe we’ll do it.

kevin roose

So we’re going to do this in two ways. We’ll do an interview with two of the composers, Dan Powell and Elisheba Ittoop, who helped make the music that goes on our show. And then, we’ll just play what they have essentially termed a “Hard Fork Megamix,” which is all of the music that they’ve made, just sort of blended together in a seamless sort of DJ-style megamix.

If you just want to hear the music, you can also find all of the songs we’re about to play on a special playlist on our YouTube channel. And you can find that at youtube.com/hardfork.

casey newton

So if you just wish “Hard Fork” was essentially chill lo-fi beats to study to, it is now there, available for you on youtube.com.

kevin roose

All right, let’s bring in Dan and Elisheba.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Dan Powell, Elisheba Ittoop, welcome to “Hard Fork.”

elisheba ittoop

Hey, thank you for having us.

casey newton

Hey, guys.

kevin roose

Where are you right now? I’m just looking. You’ve got, like, instruments behind you. It looks very cool and musical.

dan powell

Yeah. I’m in my home studio in Brooklyn, New York. So behind me is the Moog that I’ve used on a lot of “Hard Fork” cues, and then various guitars and acoustic panels. So.

elisheba ittoop

I’m in — I call it the home studio, but it’s a bedroom.

dan powell

Home studio is a state of mind. It’s not —

elisheba ittoop

Yeah. [LAUGHS]

kevin roose

You two and your team of composers at “The New York Times” are some of my favorite parts about making this podcast. And you know, frankly, you don’t get enough love for the work that you do, and I would include myself in that.

Sometimes we just have amazing sound that plays on the show, and I’m like, Where did that come from? Who made that? And the answer is always that you and your team have put together just some amazing original compositions for us.

So just, I want to start by just thanking you. Because I think a large part of what we hear from listeners is that they just love the music of this show.

casey newton

It’s so true. I feel like when people listen to a podcast like ours, which is essentially people talking about the news, maybe the last thing that they expect is they’re going to hear incredible music. And yet, on “Hard Fork,” they’ve been hearing it since the beginning. So we owe that to you and your team, and thank you so much.

elisheba ittoop

It’s — no, thank you. It’s so much fun to make. This is — we do — we do a lot at “The Times.” “Hard Fork” is a show we work on that’s like — I don’t know. It’s just — it’s just, like, joy, constantly. It’s constant joy. It’s so much fun to make things for “Hard Fork.”

kevin roose

So one thing I do know about how the music gets made for “New York Times” podcasts is that every show kind of has a sound or a vocabulary of sounds. Like when I made “Rabbit Hole,” which is a podcast I did a few years ago, Dan, you and I and our production team spent a bunch of time talking about what the sound of that show should be. So maybe just describe, briefly, what the sound of “Hard Fork” is to you.

dan powell

Yeah. There was a great creative brief from Davis, the producer. I think one thing we really liked is, he gave us a lot of great references of sounds he liked and songs he liked, but also things to avoid. And I think one reason this show is really fun to write for is, although it’s a tech show, when we were developing the sound with Davis, he was very thoughtful about, let’s not just do your stereotypical beep-boop thing.

casey newton

Yeah.

dan powell

Like, that’s obviously still a part of it, but it’s not the primary thing.

elisheba ittoop

Yeah. I’m actually looking at it right now, because it’s like, what did he say? It was so inspirational.

kevin roose

Yeah, what did he say?

casey newton

Yeah.

elisheba ittoop

What did Davis say? He said the aesthetic of the show — light, smart, funny, fun, knowing but accessible, skeptical but open-minded, sitting around — sitting around, drinking White Claws with your buds. A good hang.

And from there, he said some even more inspirational things. But I remember opening up that brief and being like, what? Yes. So —

casey newton

Like, “The New York Times” is making what?

elisheba ittoop

So to answer your question —

[laughs]

I think, musically, we don’t take things too seriously. I think we try to embrace joy as much as possible. There’s definitely like — you can turn in music where we might be like, it doesn’t have the “Hard Fork” sound just yet. It needs a little digital something, a little glitchy something. I think glitches are very important in this world. And yeah.

casey newton

Because of all the mistakes we make.

elisheba ittoop

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I just want to really highlight it.

kevin roose

Yeah, “joyful and glitchy” is how we are typically described. So I think that fits.

dan powell

I think one term we throw around a lot is, “Hard Fork” is the show you can write music for where you can let your freak flag fly a little.

casey newton

Yes.

dan powell

It’s the show — and we love working on all the shows at “The New York Times” equally, of course, but “Hard Fork” is — if you have had an unhinged idea about doing something crazy with sound, it’s generally the show that is most open to that happening on.

casey newton

Do you feel that way because Kevin and I are freaks?

dan powell

[CHUCKLES]: No comment.

casey newton

OK, that’s fair. That’s fair. I want to ask about what might be my favorite piece of music on “Hard Fork,” which is our theme song. And Dan, am I right that you took the lead on the theme song?

dan powell

Yeah, that’s right. We actually did not compose that thinking this is the theme. We were kind of composing. We let themes emerge democratically when we’re spinning up a new show, where we’ll all jam out on a bunch of ideas, and then there tends to be one cue that the team will just be like, yeah, I think this feels like the one that feels theme-y enough. But yeah, it was originally written just as an idea, and then it sort of gradually became the theme.

casey newton

Do you remember what you were thinking, or how did the “Hard Fork” theme come about?

dan powell

The theme came together really — I’ll be completely honest. The horn arrangement for the theme, which I think was something one of you as the host requested — I know — I know either Kevin or Casey said, oh, we want horns —

casey newton

I think I did say that I thought horns would be cool. Yeah.

dan powell

This is 100 percent true, but I was in the office on a Friday afternoon when it was totally dead. And I was walking to the men’s room, and all of a sudden, the ba-da-da-da-da popped into my head as I was walking through all the cubicles. And I immediately was like, oh, I got to run back to my desk and get this down. This feels like it might work for “Hard Fork.”

So that just goes to show —

casey newton

So we almost — if you had not run back to your desk, we might not have the “Hard Fork” horns.

dan powell

Yes, you know, and it was worth — it was worth holding it another 2.5 minutes for that.

Sorry, I don’t know if that’s OK to say —

casey newton

No, that’s very OK to say. I mean, the thing that I love about it is that it conveys a sense of fun and optimism. And we always have known on the show that we are going to talk about some of the most challenging and upsetting things that happen in the world. But from the start, it was important to Kevin and I that when people listen to it, at least in some moments, they had a good time.

And I feel like every week when I hear the “Hard Fork” horns, I’m like, OK, let’s enjoy something about this life, you know? And it just — anyway, from the first moment I heard it, I was in Slack, saying, Can this please be the theme?

dan powell

Well, that’s — glad to hear that. And yeah, I mean, I think the optimism and sense of, OK, it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s — it’s not really about doom and gloom, and it’s also not about totally mindless optimism either. It’s more about, things are changing, things are spontaneous.

I think the theme integrates a lot of different styles of music. That is also intentional. Because you have some electronic music tropes where there’s a breakbeat in there. You have a sort of 808-y-type drum machine.

And then, there’s some synths, but the synths also have a sort of almost, like, ‘90s jock jam, almost, feel to them. So it’s all meant to be a little bit cheeky in the way that it comes across. And it’s meant to be something that’s fun and you can kind of bop around to, but also, there’s a sense of levity there that I do think was very much informed by the two of your respective energy as hosts of the show. So yeah.

kevin roose

So tell us about the playlist that we’re about to hear.

dan powell

Yeah, so the playlist we’re about to hear is a sort of continuous mix of most of the music that has been composed for the “Hard Fork” podcast. It starts with a selection of the earliest days where Elisheba, myself, Marion, and Diane — our, sort of, core composition team — were kind of finding the sound of the show.

It then goes into an extended mix where, when we brought in all of our colleagues from across the engineering team, who also have music backgrounds of their own. And then, Elisheba, do you want to talk about the sound cue mix that comes in?

elisheba ittoop

Yeah, and then it goes into a sound cue mix, which is, these are the cues, the stingers that we make for episodes. Sometimes they’re recurring. Sometimes they just live in the moment. But I put together a few minutes of the sound cues of the show.

And then, the sound cue mix is going to go into what we affectionately call “the Freak Flag Mix,” which is — it’s wild. It’s a lot of drum and bass. Maybe, Dan, if you want to talk more about that.

dan powell

Yeah, it’s everything over 150 BPM that we couldn’t make fit in the other parts of the mix, was basically —

kevin roose

Beats Per Minute?

dan powell

Yeah. Yeah, it’s everything at a very fast tempo we could not make fit in the other parts of the mix, that was left on the cutting room floor, but that we felt like, oh, this should still have a nice little last hurrah moment.

casey newton

And you may want to check with your doctor to make sure it’s OK to listen to 150 beats per minute, because that can really get your heart going.

kevin roose

Yeah, this is the part of the mix that will make you want to get up and dance. Thank you so much from the bottom of our hearts. We love working with a team of such talented composers and musicians.

casey newton

Yeah, it’s the best. You guys are the best.

elisheba ittoop

Thank you.

dan powell

Thank you so much.

casey newton

When we come back, everybody report to the dance floor. It’s time for the Hard Fork Megamix.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Kevin, you ready to drop those beats?

kevin roose

Let’s do it.

casey newton

Hit it.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

kevin roose

Wow, that was truly incredible. Casey, are you ready to go to the club?

casey newton

Uh, I mean, I feel like we’ve been at the club. I need — I need some water and some electrolytes.

kevin roose

Yeah.

casey newton

Yeah.

kevin roose

So when we come back, we’re going to do a little bit more music, but we’re also going to talk with our composers again about the outro to this show.

casey newton

So here’s my question. If we gave you one year, could you do a club mix of the “Hard Fork” theme song?

dan powell

Yeah. I would say if you gave us one year, we would focus on, let’s actually open a club together.

elisheba ittoop

I was gonna say, like, we’d build a light show —

kevin roose

And, like, pyro —

dan powell

I really do think we have a great team. Because you two have never had the pleasure of going to karaoke with Elisheba, but she’s the ultimate hype woman. And I feel like —

casey newton

I believe this.

dan powell

— she and Casey could really just get a crowd in and hype everyone up. Kevin, you’re very level-headed. You could, I think, keep things managed and under control. I could do the sound and DJ booth. If we’re thinking big, yearlong moonshot, like, let’s go all the way. Let’s make this an institution.

kevin roose

All right. Well, you heard it here at Hard Fork Club, opening 2025. Get your tickets now. All right. Well, before we let you guys go, can you just tell us about the outro? This is the version of the theme song that plays at the end of the show that is slightly different than the intro.

dan powell

Yeah. So the outro — here’s a fun fact. The outro was written first, and the intro theme is a remix of the outro. The horns you hear in the intro theme are actually chopped-up versions of the horns in the outro. You’ll notice that in the outro theme, when the horns come in, they feel a little more natural, whereas in the intro theme, when the horns come in, they feel kind of clipped and jaunty.

That’s because it is literally just taking the audio of the horns from the outro, putting it through a sampler and Ableton, reworking it. It’s basically two variations on the same theme, just via remix. The other difference is, the intro theme has drums going through a vocoder, which gives things a nice little melodic pulse.

The outro theme does not have that. And as far as the doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo — you know, for the longest time, I thought, to be a legitimate composer, you had to play everything yourself and perform everything in real time. And I can proudly say that that melody you’re referring to, Casey, I point and clicked one mouse note at a time in Ableton, just over and over again. [LAUGHS]

Just because it felt right. Or I might have been dumb and forgotten to bring a keyboard to the office that day. I don’t — I don’t know what the reasoning for it was, but it just felt right to make life difficult and point and click it to glory.

casey newton

That’s fascinating. I didn’t know any of that. You know, one of the places, again — I usually just — do not weigh in on any of this at all. I just hear what you make, and I think that sounds fantastic. When we were talking about the theme song, I do remember having a discussion with our producer, Davis, like, can we please put the horns in the theme? The horns are the money here, you know?

kevin roose

That’s what gets the people going.

casey newton

That’s what gets the people going. And so I didn’t actually know that you had remixed the outro to turn it into our intro. That’s very cool.

dan powell

Yeah. They are two — both spawned from the same cell and evolved in their own —

casey newton

The same bathroom break.

dan powell

The same bathroom break.

kevin roose

Well, thank god for you and your bathroom break. And remind us — before we play this outro to take us out of this episode, remind us what this outro is called.

dan powell

This outro is called “No, It’s Fine,” and the intro, a remix of it, is called, “I Said It’s Fine, Really.”

kevin roose

(LAUGHING) All right. All right, so let’s take this episode out by hearing “No, It’s Fine.” And Dan and Elisheba, thank you so much.

elisheba ittoop

Awesome. Thank you.

casey newton

Bye, guys.

dan powell

Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

casey newton

“Hard Fork” is produced by Davis Land, Rachel Cohn, and Whitney Jones. We’re edited by Jen Poyant. We’re fact-checked by Caitlin Love. Today’s show was engineered by Dan Powell.

Original music by Elisheba Ittoop, Marion Lozano, Sophia Lanman, Diane Wong, Pat McCusker, Rowan Niemisto, and Dan Powell. Our audience editor is Nell Gallogly. Video production by Ryan Manning and Dylan Ferguson.

Go check us out on YouTube at youtube.com/hardfork. Special thanks to Paula Szuchman, Pui-Wing Tam, Kate LoPresti, and Jeffrey Miranda. You can email us at hardfork@nytimes.com.



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